All I Want for Yuletide Is To Be Home
This is a not for profit work of fan fiction based upon the works of Professor J.R.R. Tolkien.
Ancir is my own long established character
For Susan W. who requested a Hurin tale at Christmas, for Mthespinner for providing the inspiration, and for loved ones far from hearth and home.
13 Ringare, 2988 Third Age, Minas Tirith
Faramir II of the House of Hurin, five years of age, and the younger son of Steward Denethor, was curled up on the window seat of his father's Study. He had been placed there by his nanny, a dried out husk of a woman by the name of Nana Elen. That this domestic was in sole charge of the little lord ought to be enough to fetch back Finduilas of Dol Amroth's Shade. From the moment the two women had met they had engaged in a battle of wills over how the children of the Citadel ought to be raised. Lady Fin had demanded the nanny be dismissed, but her husband had gently reminded his hot-headed wife that it was traditional for a nanny to take the family name, and to pass from generation to generation until retirement.
Flashback - 2984 Third Age, Minas Tirith
"Why, Elen was my own nanny, and have I suffered from the experience?" Denethor said incredulously.
"Of course you have suffered by it," Finduilas retorted, "otherwise we would not be having this conversation. I am not some weak-headed little ninny, husband, I do know that our sons never may be as ordinary boys. I have bitten my tongue until it blisters trying not to display…how did you phrase it? Ah, yes, 'undue sentiment' over the lack of actual input I am allowed to make in the nursery, but when I find evidence to the fact that…crone…has been beating our son…why are you smiling? Are you not listening to me? She actually had the effrontery to admit she had smacked Boromir on the legs with a ruler!"
"It's a lioness that you are," Denethor said as he drew his wife down to sit upon his lap as he worked by his desk, "all teeth, and claws, and fur raised in a hackle,"
"Faramir is but six months old, and I do not want that hag left alone with my baby," Finduilas punctuated this statement by punching her husband's shoulder, "…Denethor!"
"I shall speak with Nana Elen personally, and order her to refrain from smacking Boromir, shall that serve?" Denethor asked.
"No, it shall not serve, for the old gargoyle shall simper, and curtsey, and mash her gums, and then the instant you are gone she shall slither back into her old ways! I warn you, husband, she goes, or I go!"
But it had been Finduilas who had gone, taken at the too early age of thirty years and eight, and Nana Elen re-arranged the nursery to celebrate.
Present (2988 T.A.)
Faramir was bored. He had little to stimulate his fertile little mind, for Nana had decreed that little boys should be seen and not heard. He had been sitting without being heard for two hours, and his father was still dictating letters to something called a scribe. Faramir shifted closer to the window pane and, glancing round to see if he was being observed, he breathed upon the horn pane until it misted, and then he drew a stylized horse. Head, body, four stick legs, bushy tail and mane. He then watched it disappear as the mist cleared, almost as though the horse had galloped away. This was better. He had enjoyed drawing the horse. Perhaps now he could draw a tree? Once again he huffed and puffed over the pane, and then he frowned in concentration as he piled triangles atop one another, planted the resultant tree in a tub, and with one fingertip he dotted it all over with imaginary yuletide candles.
"Pretty…!" he whispered, and now his throat hurt, for he was trying very hard not to cry as he recalled the beautiful Yule tree that he, and Papa, and Mama, and Ancir, and Boromir had fetched from the Pelennor last year, and how they had watched the model ships float down the Anduin, lit with candles, carrying the prayers and the hopes of their owners to the 'One'. A choked little whimper escaped the child, and miraculously his father heard it.
"What is wrong, child? Do you need to be relieved?"
"I have to wee, papa," Faramir said and now there was a tell-tale little fidget to back his claim.
"Come, then, and be careful when you use the little step," said Denethor, "last time you toppled and bruised your knee."
"Did I so?" Faramir frowned, trying to recall falling off the small wooden step placed by the bowl to aid him.
"Nana Elen said so," the Steward replied, and Faramir sighed, and nodded in silence before crossing the huge room to the bathing chamber.
"Thank you, Tallis, that is all for today, you are excused," said Denethor.
The scribe stood, bowed to his lord, gathered the documents they were preparing into a bundle, and left. Denethor wandered to the window, intending to gaze out over the Pelennor, when he caught the last of Faramir's tree as it evaporated from the window pane.
"Jhulte la Valista," Denethor named the festival of lights, now almost upon them, just one year ago his beloved Fin had been by his side, and now his life was a desert.
"I 'membered to flush, papa, and wash my paws," said Faramir, and Denethor smiled, and raised his hand to pet the child's fox coloured hair when Faramir flinched, and ducked the contact.
"Whatever is the matter, child? I was not about to strike you!"
Faramir seemed incapable of coming up with a response of any kind, and so Denethor lifted him under the arms and stood him upon the velvet upholstered window seat.
"I saw your tree," said Denethor, "it was very good."
"Did you see the lights, too, papa?" Faramir was suddenly animated. Common ground at last, recalling a happier time, when their 'Sunshine' had been alive.
"I did indeed, almost as pretty as the tree we had in the Merethrond last Yule," said Denethor.
"I miss Boromir, papa," Faramir confessed, "and…Ancir…too!"
Denethor just knew that Faramir had omitted Finduilas not to upset his father.
"As do I, but we discussed this, did we not? How your brother must learn to be an esquire before he may learn to be a soldier, and that when one is sworn to service, one may not run home upon a whim," said Denethor.
"Could he not use his horse, then" Faramir replied "if he cannot find a wh… a whim?"
"Oh, child, how may I make you understand? We Hurin's have many privileges, and so we must set an example to others, about serving Gondor," said Denethor.
"I do not feel prili-veged, papa, I feel sad. I wish Boromir was here, and we could chop down a tree, and fetch the Yule log like always!"
"Faramir…!" Denethor began to explain that so much had changed when a knock came at the outer doors, and Faramir's eyes flew towards them, it was time to go back to the nursery, back to his hateful nanny. Denethor noted the shift in his son's demeanour, and made a mental note to pay more heed to the goings on in the nursery.
"I came to fetch this young rascal, your lordship," said Elen.
Denethor only now noticed how intimidating she must be to so small a child, with her grim face, and her uniform of crow-black bombazine.
"Protocol demands you do not address my son as any sort of 'rascal'," Denethor said acidly, "and you shall be pleased to learn he no longer falls off the step beside the lavatory, one less hazard to the child bruising his legs."
Elen's eyes narrowed, had she just been put on warning? Her gimlet gaze strayed towards Faramir, and Denethor noted the action.
"Go with Nanny, little one, and come again upon the morrow," said the Steward and this, too, was a new development.
"Nursery must be kept to schedule," chided Elen and Denethor glared at her with open distaste.
"All of Gondor keeps my calendar, madam, see to it my son is fetched to me upon the morrow!"
Elen bobbed the shallowest of curtsies, no doubt citing her rheumatism as an excuse for her blatant insolence, and then she took Faramir by the hand and led him away.
The only word that described the look upon the child's wan little face was haunted.
"We never shall clean this pile of tack before bedtime, Ori," said Ancir, the heir of Forlong of Lossarnach. He and Boromir was of equal ages, both were ten years of age, and both were in training as esquires in the cavalry of Boromir's grandsire, Adrahil, the Prince of Dol Amroth. Ancir paused to push his long copper hair out of his eyes. Golden brown eyes, which Boromir routinely insisted were topaz, mainly because it always fired Ancir's temper. "Now I have saddle soap in my hair; another demerit earned come inspection!"
"Even if we did nothing wrong, still we would earn demerits," Boromir opined.
"You seem to weather the roughest of treatment without rancour," Ancir sighed.
"What cannot be changed must be borne," said Boromir, and that throwaway statement would come to be the credo of Gondor's Captain General in eleven swiftly passing years. For now, it was merely a glib rejoinder by one worn out boy to his best friend upon Arda. "Besides, bullies feed off fear, and so I choose to see them starve."
"Does none of this awful situation break you, Boromir?" Ancir was beginning to believe what the Master at Arms fed him daily; that he was weak, and girly, and better suited to the kitchens…as a scullion!
"Not the work, nor the training, even the beatings are bearable to me, I have that plodding asinine aspect to my nature that tolerates such abuse, but one thing would break me if 'ere I let it. The separation from my darling little brother," said Boromir, and suddenly the bluster was all but gone, and Ancir saw his friend fighting back tears, and gasping as though choking as his throat all but closed.
"Oh, Boromir, I had not thought…here am I bleating about my own misery, when you have that same misery to bear, and the absence of Faramir besides. You shame, me, brother," said Ancir.
Brother, well, in all ways that mattered, save blood. Ancir's mother, Lady Gilmith, had died birthing Forlong's only child. Finduilas had fostered him from six months of age, and Ancir had become an appendage to the Hurin family from that time onwards. Boromir and he were of the same age, and Ancir viewed Faramir as his little brother.
"All things pass," Boromir said shakily, "and so shall this episode in our lives. I know that you are not enamoured of the cavalry as a career, but for me soldiering is all I have ever wanted. I believe it is fitting that I should learn my trade from the ground upwards, for I shall be given the Captaincy-General, and I must not be found wanting when the time comes."
"Your father has confirmed this?" Ancir asked in a whisper. It was not an automatic appointment, but the Steward knew a born soldier when he saw one, and his eldest son had first lifted his sire's blade (a full six inches proud of the floor) while yet crawling.
"He has, and that is why I must repay his belief in me by bearing this training with fortitude. I am conscious of the honour he has paid me, and I know that by the time I am fit to hold that Office, he shall sorely need me," said Boromir.
"You there!" a slap landed across the back of Boromir's head, Ancir saw his friend bite down upon his bottom lip, partly to prevent him from crying out in pain, but mostly to rein in his explosive temper. "Less chatter and more action, neither of you lazy little curs shall see your beds until your work load is cleared!"
"Understood, Master at Arms," Boromir said politely.
"Then get to it, you spoilt little object!"
Footfalls told of the man's departure, and Boromir let out a long held breath.
"Oh, enjoy yourself now, Master, for a day is coming when you shall pass your days mucking out my grandsire's stables, Shit-shifter-General of the Swan Knights!"
27 Ringare, Minas Tirith
Over the past two weeks Denethor had made time during his punishing schedule to see his youngest son for a minimum of two hours each day. This new arrangement had resulted in a frosty atmosphere between Nanny Hurin and the Lord of Gondor. For his part, Denethor had no real interest in the opinions of his domestics, but the sour-natured Elen was feeling that her autonomy in the Nursery was being undermined, and Elen bore grudges. On this afternoon of the 27th Ringare, four days before Mettare, the last day of the year 2988, she delivered her little charge to his father in the Steward's Apartments, and left him there, departing with the merest dip of her head. Oh, happy families, how jolly, but soon enough the sentiment of the season would be gone, and Denethor would have the business of Gondor to deal with. Once he had grown bored with having that demanding little spawn of his under his feet, then Elen would restore her iron discipline to the Nursery, and Master Faramir would come to heel, or suffer the consequences.
"Come to the fire, child," Denethor coaxed, my, but the little one looked so happy to be here. Only look at the sparkle in those huge blue orbs. Fin had said she was reminded of the cornflowers growing wild upon the Pelennor each time she saw that shade of blue in their son's eyes. "I thought that we might take afternoon tea together, I find myself with free time today, (time bought at the expense of three extra hours toiling by lamplight the night before) and so I have had the kitchen send us some treats. One imagines the bread and butter, and rice pudding, of the Nursery would not be especially missed, eh?" Little changed in the White City, he himself had been fed a diet of low energy food intended to keep the spirits of the young at bay.
"Truly, papa?" Faramir went so far as to covertly pinch his own wrist, smiling when it stung, for he had been afraid he might suddenly wake from a dream.
"I have a confession to make. I had a sudden craving for toasted muffins, and one might have used your visit as an excuse to make a piggy out of one!"
"I will not tell, I promise papa," said Faramir and his eyes were straying to the table set close by, with a pristine linen coverlet spread over the food.
"Sit upon the fender, it is upholstered for that purpose, and do ignore Rana, she is growing fat and lazy, and muffins are not intended for hounds," said Denethor as his wheaten, pregnant, hound bitch crawled to the child's dangling feet, trying to be invisible no doubt, strange canine.
"May I have one of her whelps, papa?" Faramir asked, and so much for Denethor's attempt to be delicate over the bitch's condition.
"You are too small to handle a grown hound, child. Another time perhaps, from a future litter," Denethor said gently.
"I did not want it for myself, papa, but for Boromir. He aches to have a dog of his own. He will not say so, for he knows that hounds are not important when you have to rule Gondor. I thought it might be his Mettare…gift!" Oh, Boromir would be cross, they had made a pact not to mention gifts this year. Father was much too busy, and besides, he would only compare this year unfavourably with the celebrations of last Mettare. Faramir felt the shine slide from off this golden afternoon.
"I see," Denethor mused. Faramir had just answered a question which had been plaguing Denethor. Did his sons not wish to exchange gifts this year because it was too painful, or had they side-lined Mettare due to his own lack of enthusiasm? "I cannot be certain that Rana shall whelp in time, although it is a strong possibility. Shall we choose one of her whelps for Boromir when they are born? You may say the whelp is his gift from you."
"Thank you, thank you very much, papa!" Faramir exploded into life, overbalancing, and almost landing upon the fire, but his father snatched him back, and lifted him into his strong arms.
"Pay heed to the fire, child, and you are most welcome to the whelp. Now, regain your perch, and I shall set about toasting our muffins!" Denethor chuckled.
"You shall, father?" Faramir peeked under the table, wondering if a servant was concealed there ready to leap out and snatch up the toasting fork.
"I once was Captain-General of Gondor, Faramir. I had to fend for myself when in the field. My speciality is trout, but for this occasion we shall make do with muffins," laughed Denethor.
"Will you share some tales with me of those times, sire, please?" Faramir pleaded with his eyes, and Denethor felt his heart fracture.
"After tea, a short tale, now, are your paws clean?" Denethor enquired. And his heart fractured anew when his son replied:
Ancir was grooming his knight's mount, the seventeen hands dark grey named Selkie, which meaning was seal, when he suddenly paused to turn to Boromir and enquire:
"Did you reply to your father's missive, Ori? Did you answer his question about your Yule gift?"
"I replied, yes," said the blond boy as he plaited the mane of his charge, a silver grey named Mithril.
"Out of interest, what did you ask for, for I know you would love to own a proper sword," Ancir prompted.
"I am not done with growing, it is not possible to customize a sword until nature has done with me," Boromir replied.
"What, then, or is it some secret; shall I stop asking you?" Ancir was growing a little impatient with Boromir today. The Blond seemed not to be in a communicative mood.
"I asked for the impossible, now let me be, we did not get to bed until four of the clock, barely time to get settled before we were once more on call!" Boromir snapped.
"Could there be discord in the under-ranks, eh?" The Master at Arms asked hopefully as he stood forth from the shadows.
"Merely a disagreement between friends, Master," said Boromir.
"A word of advice, Hurin, you had best distance yourself from the 'little lady' here, or you never shall last this assignment out!"
"Do not store up for the future, that which you cannot handle. Your time is now, but my star is in its ascendancy, and, like all those of my House, I have a very long memory!" Boromir said icily.
Ancir steeled himself for the blows that surely would be rained down upon both of them, but the Master, as with all bullies, backed down and left.
"Home," Boromir said as he now turned to address Ancir. "I asked for both Anor and Ithil in one, for I asked to be allowed to go home. That is what I asked for as my Yule gift!"
Faramir bit into his first half of his toasted muffin, and melted butter drizzled down his chin causing him to giggle and squirm. Denethor skewered his own teacake and held it to the flames, laughing at his little son's antics. Oddly, the Steward himself had benefited from these visits, for life had lost all meaning after Finduilas had died. Denethor had found the best way to block out his pain was to work until he dropped, but since spending time with Faramir he had been finding work less onerous, and sleep easier to achieve.
"I like muffins, papa," said Faramir once he had cleared his mouth. To speak with one's mouth full at table in the Nursery was to earn a rap from a serving spoon across one's knuckles.
"Leave some room for seed cake," Denethor chuckled. "I thought lemonade for you to drink, rather than tea, shall that do?"
"Lemonade, please, papa," said the child, and this treat was better than anything he could recall since his mama had died. The second half of the muffin was soon devoured, save for a small piece which he was allowed to offer to Rana.
Denethor passed a glass of lemonade to his son, and then he poured a dish of tea for himself, and settled to eat his own toasted muffin. Denethor had hoped that a full tummy might deflect his son's attention away from stories about his father's past, but not a bit of it, for Faramir hopped down from the fender seat and conveyed his empty plate and glass to the table, excused himself to take a 'quick wee', calling back: "Have you chosen my story yet papa? I will only be a moment!"
Denethor was seriously considering manufacturing some crisis to evade this storytelling session, for his past was a bittersweet, and a chequered one, the best loved episodes of his soldiering had been wrought in the company of the enigmatic captain from Rohan, Thorongil, but as with everyone Denethor ever had loved, Thorongil had departed without warning, using his mission to vanquish the Corsairs at Umbar, to veer off into the east at the battle's successful conclusion, and from there his trail had gone cold. To this day Denethor regretted the loss of his companionship, and his skill as a leader of men. Just as the Steward had taken a firm decision to postpone opening old wounds, a page entered the apartments, bowed, and offered up a rather dog-eared missive from a mithril salver. Denethor accepted it, stated no reply, and the boy bowed and left. Boromir's strong script conveyed the direction, and Denethor found his fingers fumbling as he snapped the wax seal. His son had written back to him, and their separation had been hard upon the Steward, for his eldest son's five extra years made it easier to converse more meaningfully with Boromir over Faramir. This might be the keenly awaited answer as to Boromir's choice of gift for Mettare.
'All I want for Yuletide is to be home'
No greeting, no salutation, just a stark plea to be allowed to come home. Denethor clasped the parchment to his breast, shocked that Boromir's sojourn at Dol Amroth, his mother's birthplace, was causing him such misery. Instinct told Denethor that this request was not within his gift; that it would set Boromir's training back immeasurably to permit him to turn tail. Good sense then overrode this initial reaction. Boromir had not asked to be fetched home for good, merely for the Yule festival, and that surely was within a father's gift!
"Here I am, papa, and ready to listen very hard to my story!"
A small paw was stealing into Denethor's broad left hand, reminding the Steward of Boromir at a similar age.
"Shall we fetch your brother home, just for the Yule fest?" Denethor asked of Faramir.
"Oh, papa, may we?" Faramir gasped and tears stood out in the child's eyes, testimony of how much he loved and missed his big brother.
"I think we must, little boy, indeed I do!" Denethor said as he lifted his son, and wiped his tears with one broad, warm, thumb.
"The story will keep until Boromir comes, papa," said Faramir.
"Shall it so?" Denethor laughed.
Adrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, signalled that the young esquire kneeling before him was to stand.
"Boromir, yes, m'daughter's boy, bound for home I am told, military not your passion, eh?"
"Sire, I am merely going home for the duration of the Yule festival. The military is the very air I breathe!"
"Chip off the old block, eh?" Adrahil wheezed. The prince's health was slipping, his son, Imrahil, was more and more involved in administering the affairs of state.
Beckoning Boromir to come closer, the elderly prince laid one bony hand upon the boy's shoulder and said softly: "Yet you have her eyes!"
Boromir nodded his head, the all too familiar rush of emotion whenever his mamma was mentioned flooding his jade eyes.
"Go, with our blessing, and return to take up your training refreshed and in good spirits," said Adrahil.
"Lord Ancir of Lossarnach and I both thank your highness for his forbearance, and good wishes," said Boromir.
"Forbearance…! Her eyes; and his statecraft," Adrahil murmured as his son by law's astute pattern of speech was brought anew to his ears through the son.
Boromir bowed and backed from the throne set upon the dais. Even Boromir would grovel prettily to achieve his goal.
"Well?" Ancir asked anxiously out with the Audience Chamber.
"Who may resist my charm?" Boromir asked. "We are going home!"
"Ye-es!" Ancir yelled, drawing the attention of the Master at Arms, though the man had nothing to say, for he had been formally censured, by Imrahil no less, for being too stringent with the training of his nephew and his friend. It would last for a season, but a man's true nature will out. Boromir knew that he and the sadist yonder would clash antlers again.
"To horse, Ancir; to Minas Tirith, and decent food, but best of all, home to Faramir!" Boromir laughed.
29 Ringare, 2988, Minas Tirith
Faramir had been given leave to go to the Main Gates, under escort, to await the arrival of his brother.
Thus far he had made three trips to the Sentry Station latrine, excitement and immature bladders not being mutually conducive.
Baldric, one of the sentries on duty, had been charged with keeping the second in line to the Stewardship out of harm's way in such a busy section of the city.
Baldric was a diminutive type, of slow intellect, but he was a born comedian, and good-hearted. He was also childlike in his love of life. It made him the natural choice to baby sit a sheltered little noble without significant friends within his peers.
"Care for a sweetie, sir?" Baldric proffered a paper twist filled with boiled sweets.
"Ooh, may I, Baldric? Candy Fishes, these are my favourite!" Faramir chose a red one, raspberry, delicious!
"Mine too, 'specially the lemon ones! I like to see how fin I can suck em, fin, thin, get it? …Your lordship!" Baldric added. (Gawd, he'd be in the chokey if he kept up this familiarity!)
"I do that, too! Only, my nanny smacks me if she catches me holding them up to the light to see through," said Faramir.
"Yuss, she would n'all, I've seen her, spellin' Elen, rides a broomstick, bet she sleeps in the belfry, hanging by her knees!" Baldric growled. "Beats yer, does she?"
"…I…!" Faramir shrugged eloquently, but silently.
"Try the orange ones, my second favourites," said Baldric. Softly, softly, catchee monkey, and he had even seen one; a monkey. A Pedlar returned from Harad owned it, and he had been selling it off for the price of a new donkey. The monkey had looked like Baldric's second cousin on his mother's side. Well, it would, he'd been a bit soft in the head as well.
"Thank you, sir," said Faramir.
"Ooh, now, not sir, I works fer a living, little lord. Does she? Does that old harridan beat you?"
"Sometimes," said Faramir.
"Shocking memory me; forget me own name if it wasn't stitched inside me tunic!" said Baldric. Faramir smiled, believing his secret to be safe. So it would be, when Baldric dripped it into the proper ear hole.
"Look Baldric, my brother! My brother is home for the festival!" Faramir was bouncing from excitement now, trying to get a better view as the steward's heir rode home on his black pony, Hawk. Silver trumpets sounded Boromir's own recognition signal from the ramparts. The citizens gathered, lining the streets to greet their young lord, and Baldric lifted Faramir up onto Hawk's saddle in front of Lord Boromir, sketching a salute as he did so.
"Boromir…!" Faramir gasped as he hugged his big brother.
"Do I know you…?" Boromir asked.
"I am Faramir!" The child wailed.
"No, for Faramir is but a babe, and he never is your height," said Boromir, "wait…it is Faramir! Ancir! See how my brother has grown!"
"That cannot be Faramir!" Ancir called back, playing along.
"I turn my back for mere months and you grow up in my absence," said Boromir.
"I have missed you," Faramir sighed.
"How came you by those bruised knuckles, brother mine?"
"I…fell!" said Faramir.
Hands first, under a ruler no doubt, for Boromir had a few of those falls himself as a child.
"Shall you take Hawk's reins?" Boromir distracted his brother by giving the ribbons into his hands, controlling Hawk by his knees and ankles.
"Papa has been so kind, I visit him every day, Boromir, and we have muffins sometimes!"
"My, that must be nice for you, squab," said Boromir in astonishment.
"But I missed you the most," Faramir said as he placed his own little hands over Boromir's gauntleted ones.
Denethor raised his son from where he knelt upon the floor.
"Welcome home, child!" said the Steward.
"Thank you, for giving me leave to return sire, I never thought to be so unhappy in Dol Amroth, given the many happy visits there with our…with…!"
"With your dear mamma, you may mention her, child, I miss the fact that no one here will broach her memory for fear of displeasing me," said Denethor.
"They task us unfairly, sire. No one ever went so willingly to learn the discipline of warfare as I, but the brutality, and the injustice, it shames the Principality of Dol Amroth," said Boromir.
"Would you have me intervene?" Denethor asked.
"No, sire, I shall learn how not to drive men, but how to inspire them, by the time I exit Dol Amroth for good," said Boromir.
"Then our army shall be in good hands when the time comes for you to lead it, and I never thought otherwise," said Denethor.
"Father, I am concerned for Faramir. I noted bruises. I may tell you that Nana Elen is handy with her slaps. I had not thought she would be so harsh with a little boy who has recently lost his mother. It is beyond callous, sire!"
"Yes, I had noticed how my son cowers around the woman. I have the matter in hand. Soon she shall be retired, for I am seeking to employ some more matronly dame, a widow perhaps, to care for Faramir. Now, you no doubt shall wish to bathe and to unpack your gear before supper. I have arranged for us to eat here tonight, invite Ancir also, and we shall sit at six promptly, for Faramir must be abed by eight at the very latest," said Denethor.
"Thank you father, Ancir shall be delighted to be included," said Boromir as he dipped his head and hurried to prepare for supper.
Denethor knew that this brief bout of domesticity could not last. His burden of work would not permit it, and Boromir must go back to Dol Amroth and prepare for Military Academy, but for this Yule time at least he could try to be the sort of father Fin would expect him to be. If he sent to Tallis now, he ought to have his correspondence cleared in time to bathe and greet his sons and Ancir for supper, and then there would have to be some time alone in his Study to permit him to make up the time he had squander this week trying to ensure Faramir was safe and sound.
The Nursery apartments
"Come to me, you little imp, for your bathwater is cooling, and you have to dine with your sire tonight, Eru knows why he wastes his time upon you, such a bad child!"
Nana Elen was in high dudgeon tonight; her nose once more out of joint after learning her authority had once again been usurped.
"I am not bad!" Faramir retorted, his pride was wounded by these slurs and unfair allegations, and his temper was frayed to be pinched and slapped so many times for no cause at all.
"You are a little cur! Ungrateful whelp, only wait until I fetch the switch and you shall sing a new tune!" Elen shrieked.
"Let me be, I shall tell my father how you beat me, and make me lie in cold baths!" Faramir was fighting against the woman now, for even although she was elderly, she had Faramir in a vice like grip and he could not squirm free.
"As if the Steward would believe a little dissembler such as you," Elen shrieked.
"Unhand my brother, you evil harridan!" Boromir roared from the doorway. "Faramir, come to me, hurry little one, as for you, madam, pack your bags, you no longer shall care for my little brother!"
"Ho," Elen sneered, "little lord high and mighty, little bantam thinks he is cock of the walk does he?"
"I shall not waste my precious time in pointless discourse with you, now out you go, your baggage shall be delivered to you in the servant's quarters. Quit the Citadel precincts and never cast your vile shadow here again!" Boromir roared, and now he had the vile Elen by the collar, and was running her from the room as fast as the woman could keep up.
Faramir was cowering by the window seat, unsure as to how to react. Boromir lifted the little boy and hugged him close.
"It is over, little one, she never shall hurt you ever again, now, come and I shall help you bathe, and then we are going to have supper with papa, and Ancir," Boromir soothed.
"She never shall come back? Not even after the Yule festival?" Faramir needed to be sure this was the case.
"Never, I give you my promise," said Boromir.
Over the years it had become a feature of the Yule celebrations for Denethor and Forlong to lead a party out onto the Pelennor, and there they would choose, and fell, a tree to be installed in the Merethrond, the Hall of Feasting, and also recover a Yule log which would burn in the huge hearth. Denethor had intended to avoid any involvement in this enterprise this year, but the time he had spent in the company of his sons and Ancir the previous night had turned his decision around. Currently Denethor and Forlong were hauling upon a two-handed saw, sending pine chips flying into the frost-laden air, their breath hanging thickly in the air as they exerted themselves, enjoying every moment of the unaccustomed manual labour. Boromir and Ancir were in charge of the cart, loading holly and mistletoe to decorate the Merethrond, and the also the family apartments. Faramir was seated astride the cart horse, Clyde, cheeks like cherries, and his mitten-ed hands upon the great leather and brass collar. All those in the party keenly felt the absence of Lady Finduilas, none made any mentioned of this fact, for it was too painful, but for the sake of the boys they had to make the best of the Yule festival, and try to make their time together both special, and memorable.
Half way through the workload they halted to drink hot soup from stone bottles packed in straw to retain the heat. Cheese and apples kept hunger at bay, and the boys began to grow bold and throw snowballs at Forlong and Denethor. Forlong led the fight back, and soon the boys squeals could be hear piercing the wonderfully clear air. As the light began to fade, the woodsmen added their muscle to the task, and the huge tree was manhandled onto the sled pulled by two great hairy-footed draught horses.
"Hold tightly, squab," said Boromir as he and Ancir led Clyde, the docile horse easily pulling the cart filled with boughs of trimmings.
"Whee! This is fun, Boromir!" Faramir called out and his piping little voice pierced the air, sending rooks up in a great black flurry.
"When we reach the Citadel you must take your nap, little one," said Ancir, "otherwise you will be too tired to stay awake for the celebrations."
"Tonight we have the feast, and then the sailing of the little ships upon the Anduin," said Boromir.
"Then you shall have gifts to open, Faramir," said Ancir.
"Boromir is my gift," said Faramir, and the memory of the honesty displayed in his brother's blue eyes would remain in Boromir's heart forever.
Faramir was caught up in wonderland. All around the great hall boughs of pine, holly, and mistletoe dispensed the fragrance of the forest. The Yule log roaring in the massive stone hearth released the pine resin of the cones burning there into the air. The massive tree was lit by red candles. All around him light and warmth combined to cocoon the little boy in a sense of well being. A board had been set across the arms of the great carver chair so that Faramir could be level with the table. His father, naturally, was seated at the head of the main board, Boromir by his right, Faramir by his left, and Ancir by Forlong's right as the Lord of Lossarnach sat in the seat one place down from Boromir.
Goose, turkey, duck, and beef all were passed around on huge serving platters, borne by pages in the silver and black livery of the Citadel. Great trenchers of seasonal vegetables followed, and Boromir coaxed Faramir to accept some parsnips roasted in honey, and even a few greens. He needed no coaxing over the golden roast potatoes, though, and soon his eating irons were flying like an old dame's knitting needles! This sight fetched a smile to his father's face, remembering how Fin would declare that Faramir was a thoroughbred in that he never seemed to broaden out no matter how much he ate. The courses were duly presented, until the great fruited pudding was born in upon a trestle by two pages, this traditional last course of the feast was alight and wreathed in blue flame as the brandy wine with which it was liberally soaked burned off.
"Yonder," said Denethor from behind his napkin, "old countess Constanza shall be in a drunken stupor by the time she scoffs her pudding. I have seen her wine glass re-filled at least three times, and that does not include the peppermint liqueur she insists is an aid to her digestion!"
"She grinds her provender finer than any millstone with those monstrous wooden teeth," Forlong opined, "a digestive aid, indeed!"
"I have seen poacher's steel traps less lethal," said Denethor, "and more lawful!"
"Oh, yon pudding is a fine example of its kind," said Forlong as he rubbed his hands in anticipation.
Faramir leaned in close to savour the aroma rising from his slice of pudding. Nutmeg, cinnamon, dried fruits, orange peel, these most evocative of scents transported him back in time to when his mamma had been seated next to their father, her laughter ringing about her like silver bells. For a moment his appetite faltered, and then he saw Boromir, and understood his brother was having the same struggle eating his pudding. Before this mood became contagious and touched their father, Faramir gamely took up his spoon, and began to shovel pudding into his mouth. In that instant he and Boromir held each other's gaze and an alliance was formed. No matter how uncomfortable, they would always face the future together.
Mettare, the last day of the year, the City Ramparts
The Anduin was ablaze with a flotilla of model ships, each one with a lit candle in its bow, and when the candle burned down the ship would be consigned to the water beneath her, taking her owner's prayer before the 'One'. This ritual was open to all the citizens of the Tower of Guard, for this one day in the year all were equal, tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, and even reformed thief.
Watching from the ramparts the ruling family made their own wishes, and silently sent them before the One, Eru Iluvatar. For the most part their wishes could not be granted, for Finduilas was lost to them until they re-united beyond the circles of Arda. Lesser requests yet stood a chance. The point to these wishes being that once spoken aloud they were doomed never to be granted, and so Denethor need not burden his sons by admitting he had wished to be a better father. Boromir need not flag up that he wished he need not return to Dol Amroth. Faramir knew it was a wasted wish to beg the One to let Boromir stay at home. It did not occur to any of them to ask for mere objects, for they had no need of worldly goods, they had no use for them, given their hours were allocated to duty.
"This year send the arrow into the sky yourself, Denethor," said Forlong and the Steward shook his raven mane in refusal.
"See it as a means of closure, a sign that the old year is dead, and that a new one is begun," said Forlong.
"I have not fired an arrow since…" the Steward dropped his gaze for a moment, and then when Boromir tugged upon his robes he smiled at his elder son and nodded.
With the population of Minas Tirith watching on, Denethor sent the flaming arrow high into the midnight sky, rising in a wide, high, arc, then dwindling and falling to the turf he so diligently defended.
"Goodbye my beloved, it is time to move on, until we meet beyond the veil," Denethor whispered with tears in his bereft grey eyes.
"Come," said a newcomer, Caranthir, Warden of the Houses of Healing, and secret half-brother to Denethor, the image of Ecthelion if one knew how to look for the signs.
"Do not fuss me, you old badger," said Denethor.
"Then do not be stubborn, you old goat!" retorted Caranthir, dressed all in healer's black, with his silver hair, and neat silver goatee beard, looking, it must be said, very badger-like, and surely there was none other who could take such a liberty with the Steward's person?
"You can track seed cake at fifty ells," said Denethor.
"Seventy five, if the wind is favourable," said Caranthir and together they strode towards the Citadel.
Seated around the Steward's Study, they shared cake and wine, ginger cordial for the boys, and just when Denethor heaved a sigh of relief, Faramir piped up with:
"May I have my story, papa, a tale about you and Thorongil. You promised, remember? I said to wait until Boromir is here to share it," said Faramir.
"I…one moment…I have not a tale ready at hand…" said Denethor.
"Tell them of the time when you and he set a chamber pot atop Turgon's statue!" Caranthir chuckled.
"Thank you for reminding me of that episode," said Denethor, glaring at his half brother who was grinning like the cat that got the cream. "But it hardly is fitting in the circumstances."
"Do you know, Boromir, that papa can cook trouts?" Faramir asked.
"No," said Boromir, "In the same way that one deer is a deer, and many deer are still deer, more than one trout is still trout."
"Well, papa can cook them, he said so, did you not, papa?" Faramir asked expectantly.
"Well, in the wild, one must be able to cook, in order to survive. I see where this is leading, and so, one small insight into the time I spent with Captain Thorongil," said Denethor, knowing defeat when he saw it, and graciously conceding defeat. "We had been travelling for two days, shadowing a troop of Haradrim, intent on learning their full strength and discovering their encampment. It was growing late, and we had no food, and so when Thorongil said he could secure some trout, well, I thought it a splendid notion. Off he went, like a wraith, running low towards the riverbank. One thought: 'How graceful he is for a man his height,' and no sooner had one thought it than he began to flail like a windmill with its sails out of trim, and then there was some skidding motion, and he disappeared utterly from view! What to do? I could not race to his assistance for then I might betray us to the enemy sentries! If he had somehow knocked himself unconscious he might well drown before I made my way to the riverbank. As I knelt in the cover of a great bush, deciding how best to proceed, I heard the splash of a large mammal entering the water. Mammal, most assuredly, for it gave out a grunting bellow, and I believed it to be a steer or some other domestic beast. The Haradrim paid the sound no heed, they were weary, and in need of food, and rest, and they had assumed, as had I, that it was no more than a simple creature seeking water from the river."
"Ooh, was it Thorongil who was the beast, papa?" Faramir asked with huge eyes, and fingers part way to his mouth as the suspense over took him.
"I did not think so at the time, but within minutes I saw a dark shape rise above the riverbank, and then it grew in size, and substance, and the shape dropped to the grass and slithered towards my bush! I admit that for a moment I was seized by panic, for if it was some beast how could I defend myself without betraying my presence? I felt about on the ground for my pack, and I took out my knife, and then…"
"…gutted!" murmured Thorongil, nodding approvingly at the knife in the hand of his companion, and now he dropped two plump trout upon the grass and rolled onto his back, there to lie in a heap of heaving wet leathers, his hair askew, his breathing harsh, as he had swallowed a deal of river water, "…m'cold…starving!"
"I have not heard you this wordy the entire day," Denethor snickered as he took up the fish and deftly removed their entrails.
"They put up a fight," said Thorongil, indicating the eviscerated fish, "…had to go in after the second one."
"How noble of you to ensure we had one apiece!" Denethor said in a low purr, still aware of the enemy sentries.
"We had better relocate. I draw the line at raw fish. Go off to the left where the land rises uphill, I shall find some firewood!" Thorongil whispered.
Denethor grimaced, for managing his pack and two piscine carcasses was a messy affair. One bundle was sure to become wrapped about the other. There were times when the pedantic captain from Rohan would induce even the Valar to curse. Eventually Denethor located their mounts, both animals hobbled against flight, and contentedly cropping the sweet grass around the area Gil (Thorongil) had chosen for their encampment. While he awaited the arrival of his Adjutant, Thor (Denethor) fetched stones to arrange into a makeshift hearth for their fire, and selected sticks to skewer the trout upon. His stomach gave a loud growl, and he tried to muffle the noise with his saddlebags. Ridiculous! He chided himself. Not even a sub species such as the Haradrim could hear at this remove! It was a combination of exhaustion and hunger that was driving his senses into overload.
"Gah…! Do not creep up on one, one's entire life just now flashed before one's eyes!" Thor gasped.
Gil's familiar wheezing form of laughter could clearly be heard over the sound of his rooting in his saddlebags. One of these times the clown would go too far, and the result would be extremely messy, indeed!
The two men now worked in practiced silence. Gil laid and coaxed a fire into life, ensuring the flames were kept to a minimum, aiming to reduce the tinder and dry wood to hot ashes in which to 'bake' the trout, thereby concealing their presence. Thor used a package of sea salt secured within an oilskin pouch to rub into the flesh of the de-scaled trout. Soon enough the fish and fire were married together and the men now sat in companionable silence until their supper was cooked. Thor closed his eyes, for he had the human form of a guard dog seated beside him, and so why not utilize his talent? The sound of squelching cracked one of Thor's grey eyes open and he pivoted his head to focus upon his lanky Adjutant as he wriggled like an eel to shuck his saturated clothing. Undeniably this performance was hilarious, and it took Thor all his self control to prevent himself from laughing out loud.
"It is akin to watching a conger eel skin itself," said Denethor.
"Do not feel obliged to aid me," said Gil with sarcasm.
"I should removed those boots first, were I you. Every lower garment shall merely be log-jammed if you do not," Thor opined.
"…meh," said Gil, beginning to contemplate allowing the clothing to dry in situ.
It was the opportunity of a life time, to place one's boot upon the backside of the Heir to the Stewardship, and quite legitimately shove! There came a gigantic sucking sound, and the left boot and Thor were launched towards the ground. The Captain General listened for any suggestion of laughter, for if the lanky enigma behind him even sniggered Denethor would wring his neck! Not one to leave any task half done, Thor once again presented his buttock, and once again he and a boot full of river water spilled onto the ground.
"My thanks," said Gil, and Thor could not detect so much as a crease line about that mobile mouth that betrayed humour.
"Yes, well, you had best spread your clothing to dry, borrow my cloak, only do not get fishy paw prints upon it," said Denethor, as he scooped away the hot ashes and manoeuvred the parcels of leaves stuffed with trout onto the grass. Both men were too hungry to observe any niceties other than a brief swivel of the head towards the West in an abbreviated form of the Standing Grace. From that moment onwards they fell silent out of respect for the fish. The clouds scudding across the face of Ithil offered brief shafts of light by which to eat. The pink flesh fairly melted away from the bones, and the two men only now realized how hungry they had been.
There followed a noisy round of finger licking, and chin swabbing, and Gil burped delicately against his balled fist.
"Those fish did not die in vain," said the captain from Rohan.
"One agrees," said Denethor. "I regret they were not swimming in company with friends, seconds would have been welcomed."
"Not even for you am I going back into that river," Gil chuckled.
"Not even?" Denethor's eyes became misted, and it was not the smoke rising from the dulling ashes that caused him to swipe one hand across them.
"For you I would stop an arrow, for that it is what brothers in arms do for one another. For you I would gladly lay down my life; again…it is what we soldiers do. Going back into that freezing river to catch you another trout? That my friend would be well above the call of duty," said the northerner.
"Throughout all of my life I could have any servant bring me any number of trout, but you are the first brother in arms who has offered to die for me. I never shall forget your loyalty, Thorongil of Rohan."
"Not tonight, nor tomorrow, but one day," whispered the one whose name meant 'Eagle of the Star'.
"That shall never happen, father, you will surely never forget such a man as Thorongil," Boromir asked anxiously.
"Nor have I," said Denethor, "for much of the time he and I spent together in Gondor's service shall remain with me forever."
"Will you cook trouts…trout…for Boromir, and Ancir, and me sometime, papa?" Faramir begged.
"When next your brother and Ancir come to visit from Dol Amroth," said Denethor, glancing towards his heir to see his reaction.
Boromir dipped his head submissively, for like Thorongil, he, too, would give his all for Denethor of the House of Hurin.
"Did someone say there were gifts?" Caranthir said, galloping to his brother's rescue.
Now came the time for the gift giving, to fetch the night to a close, and permit the young ones to go to their beds. Boromir received a jewelled dagger, and the promise that when he was grown there would be a sword crafted especially for him. Faramir was informed that a cream pony was being brought from Lossarnach in the next week, that it was being broken to harness before being delivered. Ancir, passionate about the history of Numenor, was given a tome that he took immediately to the window seat where he began to devour it without pause. Then Denethor took Faramir to one side, and there some collaboration took place, and Faramir approached his brother and said: "Thank you for my wooden fort, brother, and this is my gift to you, a whelp, just like you always wanted!"
Boromir took the day old, still blind, snuffling bundle of hound, and hugged it to his chest before it must be returned to Rana.
"He is beautiful, Faramir. I shall name him Torrin!"
"Happy Yuletide, Boromir," said Faramir.
"Happy Yuletide, little brother!" said Boromir, and together they gazed out over the Pelennor, at the last of the little ships with their flickering lights.
Season's blessings to all my readers, it is good to be back, to re-visit with familiar names, and meet new ones, and may you all have a very happy holiday!